Canadians are really cool, and not just from the temperature up there. Using soybean rayon, organic cotton, bamboo, as well as natural dyes and processes, Tara St. James – the mastermind behind Covet, has created quite a buzz around herself – and it’s no surprise, Covet really is sailing into uncharted territory by making sustainable clothes that are actually really cool. I can count on my hands how many other designers are doing what I call SSA; Sustainability, Social Justice, and Animal Advocacy. Realizing this crucial interconnection is a rare feat that only a few industry visionaries seem to be able to proffer.
Tara St . James has been a vegetarian and environmentalist for over a decade, and is an industry leader in what she refers to as “hand crafted redemption”. The spring 2008 collection from Covet is almost totally vegan, as compared to the Fall lines, which tend to be very heavily wool and cashmere based – and while we disagree on the use of wool and silk, Tara is a beacon of light in the dark, jagged landscape of the fashion industry.
Covet has been featured in Elle, Lucky, MR, WWD, IOU, and Sportswear International, and showcased at events such as Toronto’s sold-out Sustainable Style World Wildlife Fund fund-raiser. Ms. James’ endeavor is gaining momentum, and I got a chance to interview her recently to find out about her vision, and what’s going on out in the trenches of sustainable fashion’s uprising. Here is the interview:
DB: How did you get into fashion, and what led up to the creation of Covet?
TSJ: I’ve been working in the industry for about 10 years, mainly designing for denim brands.
TSJ: I wanted to reference the casual yet classy clothing of the 1950s, before baggy jeans and tees were a staple.
DB: When did you become an environmentalist, and describe the process of actualizing that in your work – including difficulties. Did you meet resistance? Do you have plans to use organics?
TSJ: I don’t know if there was a specific turning point which made me ‘an environmentalist’. Once I left school and started my career in fashion, and as I grew older and more responsible for my actions and my lifestyle, I also became aware of the circumstances these entailed. Information about the destruction of the earth was abundant, so all I did was put it into practice.
DB: You seem to be at the forefront of a shake-up in the fashion industry where people are actually demanding accountability for the ways in which their products are made – from labor to raw materials. What’s happening out there?
TSJ: Firstly, thank you for the compliment. ‘Going green’ has become very trendy over the past two years or so and to be honest I don’t mind one bit. Whether consumers are buying eco-friendly products because it’s trendy or because they feel a sense of accountability towards the environment, the same end result ensues… eco products are slowly becoming the norm in every day use and people are educating themselves about the repercussions our choices have on our future.
As for labor and raw materials, it’s becoming increasingly easier to find resources both overseas and domestically. Factories in India and China are performing complete overhauls in their methods and products in order to offer labour and eco-friendly products.
DB: The fabrics you use are not common in mainstream fashion – from soybean rayon to bamboo cotton. How are these products made, why are they so great, and how come everyone isn’t using them? What other exciting processes and materials are on your radar for the future?
TSJ: So many beautiful fabrics, so little time! I currently use organic cotton for all my knits, bamboo, modal, soybean blends, tencel and silk.
As for the future, I’m working with an organic merino wool quality that is beautiful. I’m also looking into ingeo (a corn-based yarn), seacell (a version of tencel mixed with seaweed), recycled polyester (made with old plastic bottles), and a milk-based yarn. All very interesting.
DB: Many of my readers are animal advocates. Thank you for not using any fur or leather! Where do you stand concerning the fur and skins trades, and animal advocacy in general?
TSJ: I’ve been a vegetarian since I was 14 years old. I refuse to buy or wear fur, but haven’t quite kicked the leather habit (a girl needs her shoes after all!). Luckily companies like Stella McCartney and Natalie Portman for Te Casan are starting to offer beautiful vegetarian shoes that may help me kick that nasty habit. I also buy vintage leather shoes instead of new whenever possible.
DB: Is ‘cool’ being redefined in our culture? How is iconography changing, or is it not?
TSJ: The world has become a very fast-paced place in which to live. Trends no longer last 2 to 3 seasons. They don’t even last one season, for that matter. The industry is in such a rush to catch up to itself that I think the consumer is looking for a way to stand out, not only in a fashionable way but by wearing their personal philosophies as brands, the way we used to wear band t-shirts or sports jerseys. Now that ‘eco’ is a trend, consumers want others to know they make specific ethical choices when purchasing goods (without wanting a huge recycle logo on their chest)
DB: What other designers do you have your eye on, and who should we be looking out for?
TSJ: For menswear I’ve always been a fan of Alexander Herchcovitch, Henrik Vibskov, Marc Jacobs. The world of mens eco-fashion needs to start moving away from organic cotton jeans and tees. I look forward to the day when a sustainable tuxedo walks down the red carpet at the oscars.
DB: What can we expect to see from Covet in the coming year or two?
TSJ: I plan to expand the woven organics part of the line (shirts, pants, jackets, etc…) I have been using linens and wools as standard issue, but I want to introduce organic cottons and hemp blends in future collections. Hemp has come a long way.
DB: Anything else you want to say to these Discerning Brutes?
TSJ: Thanks for reading!
To find out where to get covet clothing, click HERE the click on ‘shopping’.